Finding a job can be challenging regardless of whether you just graduated from paralegal school or have been working for 20 years. The first step in finding the perfect job is developing and writing the perfect resume. However, there are different techniques for writing a paralegal resume when you are just starting out versus when you have years of experience but are looking to change jobs.
The key is to write your resume to be concise and comprehensive while appealing but not overwhelming prospective employers. Below are tips for writing a paralegal resume from the perspective of a new paralegal with very little paralegal experience and from the perspective of an experienced paralegal looking for new opportunities.
Resume Tips for New Paralegals
A typical resume will have four to five sections including your career objective, education, work experience, awards, achievements, skills and honors. For a new paralegal with little to no paralegal experience, the most important sections of the resume will be the career objective, education, skills and achievements. These areas can be used to highlight the new paralegal’s ability to learn, adapt, cope and excel.
Career objective – When writing your career objective, you should keep this to one line. You want a concise, detailed description of the job you are seeking. Most new paralegals will use something like “To secure an entry-level position in a successful law firm where I can use my education and skills for the benefit of the attorneys and the clients.” However, it may be more beneficial to customize each career objective to the type of law that the firm practices such as, “To secure a job in a successful litigation firm where I can use my research and writing skills.”
Education – If you have little to no work experience, your education section will likely be the most important section. Highlight classes that you took that apply directly to the position you are applying for within the firm. For example, if you are applying for a real estate paralegal position, you may want to include that you took an advanced real estate class and a class covering title searches and title insurance. Include any academic achievements such as being on the dean’s list or graduating with honors. If you held leadership positions, wrote for the college newspaper or worked on the yearbook, make sure to notes these roles as they show leadership qualities and initiative.
Work experience – Even if you have not worked as a paralegal, you still may have work experience that is relevant. Did you volunteer in a free legal aid office or work as an intern for a law firm? If so, highlight your duties and the skills that you learned during your internship. If you were a bookkeeper, manager at a restaurant or worked on a civic or community project, list the skills that you learned that apply to being a paralegal such as attention to detail, leadership qualities, etc.
Skills – This is another important section for new paralegals. Do not forget to include your computer related skills such as proficient in Microsoft Word, Excel or PowerPoint. If you speak a foreign language or excel in using Lexis or Westlaw, this is where you can expound on this skill to let the employer know you would be an asset to the firm.
Resume Tips for Experienced Paralegals
The resume for an experienced paralegal is similar to that of a new paralegal except the “meat” of the resume is the experience section. Typically, experienced paralegals will organize their resume into five sections including career objective, experience, professional education, skills and other relevant experience.
Career objective – For an experienced paralegal, the career objective should tell a prospective employer why the paralegal is seeking a career change. For example, “To secure a senior level paralegal position with a strong commercial litigation firm that includes supervisory responsibilities.” This indicates to the prospective employer that you desire to expand your professional growth.
Professional experience – This is the most important section of the resume for an experienced paralegal. Begin with the most recent position and work in reverse chronological order. Provide the dates of employment for each employer, your title and a concise description of your duties and responsibilities. Use action verbs in your description such as ‘maintained,’ ‘conducted,’ ‘developed’ and ‘implemented.’ Follow the P-A-R Format (Problem-Action-Result) when writing your bullets. Highlight duties and responsibilities that directly relate to the position that you want.
Education – List each degree or certificate you have completed beginning with the most recent working in reverse chronologic order. Provide the degree, the college and the date you graduated. Make sure to include your academic awards and honors in this section.
Skills – As with the new paralegal, this section should highlight relevant skills that you have including speaking foreign language and using technology. Employers like to see that you are proficient with various software programs including both office programs and legal problems. Being proficient using several legal research websites and other online legal resources is also very helpful.
Other relevant experience – This includes serving on the board of your local or national paralegal association, volunteering at the legal aid office, holding leadership positions with various civic and community groups and teaching at CLEs or local paralegal schools. This experience demonstrates your leadership skills and initiative.
General Resume Tips
When you are drafting your resume, try to keep it to one page, and definitely not more than two pages. When hiring managers or attorneys are reviewing hundreds of resumes, one-page resumes that provide detailed information in a concise manner will typically be read thoroughly rather than a two or three-page resume that will likely be skimmed at best. Use a font that is professional such as 12 pt. Times New Roman – avoid fancy or decorative fonts. You may believe they catch the person’s attention but it is not the attention that you want to receive. You are seeking a professional position and your resume should appear just as professional.
Before mailing your resume, have at least one (two or three are better) people read your resume to proof for mistakes in spelling and grammar. It is very difficult to proof your own work; therefore, having another set of eyes helps you prevent embarrassing mistakes. As discussed above, consider customizing your resumes to fit the position you are applying for rather than using a form resume. By customizing your resume for the job, you can highlight specific information that is related to the job to catch the attention of the hiring manager and/or attorney. Regardless of whether you are an experienced paralegal or a new paralegal, you need to develop resumes that grab the attention of the hiring manager and make him or her want to know more about you.